The Lessons I Learned While Incarcerated Showed Me My Potential

“Achievement does not require extraordinary ability. Achievement comes from ordinary abilities applied with extraordinary persistence” – Ralph Marston

Growing up on a reservation wasn’t easy. A quick Google search will tell you about all the inequities and issues that Native American communities face. We are largely isolated from the rest of the country, and the lack of resources and opportunities lead many people in these communities, including mine, to feel stuck and without options.

Both of my parents are highly educated and successful people. My mom earned multiple master’s degrees and my dad also earned multiple degrees in engineering and business, owned his own business, and was a professor at Northern Arizona University’s School of Business. Despite the strained relationships I have created with my parents, they are my blueprint for what self-made success looks like.

When I was a teenager, my parents moved our family to Flagstaff Arizona. They wanted to move us away from the reservation and into the city to give us more opportunities to succeed in the same way they did. However, it was a massive culture change for me, and the move would eventually lead me down a long path of self-destruction.

From the time I was nineteen years old, I have been in and out of prison. Unlike my parents, I chose to use my trauma as an excuse to justify my behavior, my choices, and to always stay on the easiest course possible, which ultimately led to multiple trips to prison.

As I entered prison again in 2017, I realized just how much my life has been impacted by incarceration, and the total impact it has had on every person in my family. This is when I was truly able to start turning my life around. I was hired to work by a company that has helped me completely shift my perspective about what I can achieve. I truly feel like I have a positive outlook for my future and a plan to create a better life for myself and my family. I want to share some of the most important lessons I’ve learned along my journey. I want people from communities like mine to learn from my experiences without having to struggle and learn the hard way.

Challenge yourself and don’t give up.

I didn’t fully appreciate my parents’ success when I was growing up. As I’m working to turn my own life around at 39 years old, I have a deeper appreciation for their strength and tenacity. Neither of them had an easy childhood, as we see in many Native American families. Both of my parents’ tribes struggled financially with minimal outside support. I know how easy it would have been for them to give up on a better life and say that their situation was never going to improve. Instead, they persevered, and became successful through their own hard work and merit.

When I was younger, I couldn’t see that taking the easy way out or giving up was going to make my life harder in the long run. I wasn’t exercising my own sense of agency or taking control of my own life and future. What’s more, I hadn’t built the resilience I needed to change the destructive behaviors that were keeping me on the wrong path.

When I first started working in the call center, I had no idea what to expect or what I was doing. I didn’t think I would be able to succeed in my role. But I knew the alternative was to go back to what I had been doing before, and that wasn’t working. I pushed forward, asked for help when I needed it, and took every opportunity to learn more. I’m now in a place where I feel like I’m great at the work I’m doing with more room for growth ahead of me. By challenging myself, I was able to build the internal strength to not give up and stay on the right path.

Believe in the power you have to achieve your dreams.

One thing that I had completely wrong earlier in my life was the idea that your environment determines your potential. Where you grow up, how you are raised, and the opportunities you have access to all shape who you are as a person. There’s no denying that. But the work I am doing while incarcerated has shown me that the strongest limitations are those we put on ourselves.

Before I started working in the call center, I couldn’t fully grasp that nothing is owed to me. I didn’t think I could build the future I wanted for myself, and I had to learn that if I wanted my circumstances to change, I would need to do the work to change them. Since then, I have healed emotionally, changed my mentality, and taken charge of my own success. And while I have received a lot of help, support, and guidance from my colleagues and managers, I’ve also gained the strength to drive my own growth.

By putting in the work to improve myself personally and professionally, a world of opportunities has opened for me that I had never imagined for myself. Inside a prison and wearing orange, I’m having conversations with leaders from massive companies and helping them to grow their business. I have found the determination to earn multiple college degrees throughout my incarceration. I know I have a bright future ahead of me after I am released. My journey has shown me that even when there are barriers on the path to success, they can be overcome, and that we are capable of much more than we may think of ourselves.

Surround yourself with people that challenge you to be a better person.

Part of what set me down a negative path in life was always settling for mediocrity. I did not create an environment that would help me succeed. Eventually, I found my positive support network in prison. For most people, prison is the last place you would expect to find people who can help you grow. However, the women who work with me in the call center are focused on personal and professional growth and building better lives for themselves. Because we share common goals, we support one another and push each other forward.

Accountability is one of the biggest strengths I’ve developed while incarcerated. It’s important to be accountable to yourself and others and keeping people around you that can help you do that is imperative. It’s tempting to let people into our lives that help us avoid challenging ourselves. However, these are not the people who will help us grow. It’s also important to recognize the difference between people who want you to be better, and people who inspire you to want to be better. We should all seek out people who can help us move outside of our comfort zones while supporting our ambitions.

When I leave prison, I’m going back to school to get my master’s degree in corporate and strategic communication. Within two years, I aim to have my diploma and I will stay connected with Televerde, giving back to the community that supported me. I want to focus on the rights of Native American people; it’s a cause that needs more voices, and I plan to be one of them.

I hope my story can be a light for others. Over the last seven years, I’ve learned that no matter where you start or what you’ve done, you can change your life. Transformation is possible if you’re willing to put in the work, be honest with yourself, and never stop believing in in your ability to achieve greatness through extraordinary persistence. Life is not easy for any of us, but with determination, hard work, honesty, and a tribe of positive, supportive people, you can learn, change, and grow stronger. 

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